Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Common Kicking Mistake that Robs Your Power and Can Tear Your ACL

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2013, All Rights Reserved

About two years ago I was talking to a woman who wanted more than anything to earn her black belt. When she talked about it she got very animated and it was obvious that she had a real passion for Karate, but then she told me that due to a torn ACL she hadn’t practiced in over a year.

She told me that shortly after she earned her brown belt she was sparring during class when she got too excited; facing one of the senior black belts in the school she wanted to put on a good show so she recalls stepping forwards and throwing a right front kick as hard as she could...and then feeling as sharp pain in her left knee and falling to the ground. She had torn her ACL in the left knee and found out she would be in recovery for about a year and a half. Unfortunately, when I looked into it I found this was not that uncommon for martial artists.

About seven years ago man named Tom came to my school. He had earned his black belt from a local Taekwondo school and wanted to see what else was out there. I began giving him private lessons and he quickly found that a key difference between my school and his old school was that in my school we spend a great deal of time hitting things whereas his school spent most of their time kicking the air. Having spent so much time kicking the air his body wasn’t used to dealing with impact of really hitting something with his kicks and punches and as a result when he would kick a bag or kicking shield he would pretty much just bounce off. It took a little while to modify his kicking technique but soon he could stand in one place and drive his foot through a pad without being pushed off balance.

Tom still attended class at his Taekwondo school here and there and after one class he reported that the sudden improvement in his kicking technique was not winning him any friends in that school. Apparently, the entire class formed two lines and the first line held a kicking shield so the second line could practice their front kicks. He said everyone in his line was kicking the shield in a steady rhythm...except for him. Everyone else was hitting the pads with one kick after another but every time Tom kicked the pad he knocked his partner back a step and a half so his partner had to step back up and reset breaking the classes rhythm.

The problem came when Tom had to hold the pad for his partner and the guy found that, kick as hard as he could, he could not knock Tom backwards. To make matters worse Tom was a slender man in his 60’s who rarely came to class and his partner was a muscular man in his mid 20’s who attended class twice a week so as the younger man kicked harder and harder only to see Tom not move he got madder and madder as his ego became more and more bruised.

Both instances above have the same element in common, the lady at the start of this article didn’t know this kicking secret and became injured while Tom did know it and developed a front kick that was the envy of his class.

Tearing the ACL is, unfortunately, a somewhat common injury in the martial arts and it tends to happen the same way in most cases. The cause is often kicking while your base foot is pointed at your target. When you kick you throw your body weight forward, so your weight starts pretty much over your heels and then as the kick extends and your weight goes forwards and your center of gravity travels up your base foot towards your toes. As your body weight goes forwards you become unstable so you dig the ball of your foot into the ground to push backwards and keep your balance, and this does two things; first it pushes your body and your body weight away from the kick preventing you hitting as hard as you could have and transferring all of your body weight. This is one reason people lack power in their front kicks and one of the main reasons that, try as he might, the younger guy couldn’t knock Tom backwards.

The second thing that happens is that when the ball of your foot digs into the floor pushing you backwards your upper body is still going forwards. The result is everything above your knee is going one direction and everything below your knee is going the other and you end up with anywhere from a little bit of knee pain to a torn ACL.

How do you fix this, simply look to Tai Chi. The best footwork in the martial arts comes from Tai Chi, and what do they do in Tai Chi before they throw a kick? They turn their base foot out. If you’re going to throw a right front kick you should first turn your left foot outwards 45-90 degrees from your target. By turning your base foot out it opens your hips giving you a better range of motion and then when your weight transfers forwards it simply goes over your heel allowing your entire body to travel into the kick. Turning your base foot outward protects your foot and your knee from strain and allows you to put all your body weight and musculature into the kick.

Tom knocked his younger partner back when he kicked the kicking shield not because he was bigger or stronger than him and not because he generated more force when he kicked, in fact the opposite was true. Rather by using correct structure he was able to transfer more of the force into the kicking shield which is a great example of working smarter and not harder.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Street Fighting and Physical Conditioning: An Examination

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2013, All Rights Reserved

“It’s well-known that one of the most common reasons people lose fights on the street is lack of conditioning.”

This quote is by some guy in some magazine I recently read and it made me step back and take notice. I want to examine this quotation and discuss its validity. First let’s look at the subject of “street fighting.”

When I was a young teenager studying martial arts my real goal wasn’t to build character or to be able to defend myself, it was to build my ability at “street fighting.” All the movies I watched, all the magazines I read, and all the people I talked to in the martial arts all talked about the street fight. I can even remember one of the black belts at a Taekwondo school I attended started a class with, “I’m not proud of it, but I was in a street fight this weekend and it taught me a valuable lesson…”

It was about this time that I really started to think about it and I suddenly had to ask myself, “where is this mystical street at where all these fights are happening?” The more I really started to look into it I could see a lot of reports of crimes such as aggravated assaults, assaults with a deadly weapon, and home invasions, but I couldn’t find evidence of all this street fighting everyone in the martial arts was supposed to be getting ready for.

Years later the internet came about and soon I was on there watching videos of street fights; only the fights I saw really weren’t fights. I saw video after video of one person just walking up and beating another person with little warning. These were assaults not street fights and there was nothing about them that I wanted to train for.

Fast forward several more years and a lot more training and I realized what a street fight actually is. To break it all down there are three categories of personal combat and they are:

1.) Mutual Combat With Rules. This is what most people think of when they think of fighting. This is boxing, kickboxing, wrestleboxing (mma), sparring, and any other time two or more people voluntarily agree to engage in a combat activity that is confined by set rules and often has some form of safety equipment and a referee.

2.) Mutual Combat Without Rules. This can be said to be the typical bar fight or the street fight. This takes place when two or more people voluntarily agree to fight each other but there are no rules or referee.

The thing I want to draw your attention to is that both of the above are forms of mutual combat; all parties are voluntarily agreeing to fight so if they get hurt it is their own fault for fighting and if they didn’t want to fight they could have just walked away in the beginning. The third category is a little different.

3.) An Act of Criminal Violence. This is different than the others because there is no mutual combat; here one party simply attacks another party often with little to no warning. With this category of violence one party can’t just simply opt out and walk away because the other party, the criminal, wants something from them and pursues them to get it. Also, the stakes in this manner of violence are higher because where in the two categories of mutual combat the violence is ego based and each party generally serves to stroke their own ego by besting their opponent, and so the goal is to “beat them up” and send them home with a black eye and bloody lip; in an act of criminal violence the goal is often to seriously injure or kill the other party.

In an act of mutual combat you may go home with a broken nose and bruised ego, but in an act of criminal violence you may be stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, stomped to death, end up in coma, suffer brain damage, or be killed.

Once I realized that the honest reality I faced wasn’t some guy picking a fight with me it was criminal violence I gave up on the notion of street fighting. Today if someone challenged me to a fight and called me, my wife, and my mother every name in the book to egg me on I’d simply smile and walk away. My main concern is keeping myself and my family safe from the real threats of the world and that is criminals who don’t put their hands up and square off with you before they attack you.

That is the reality of “fighting on the street,” and I think that if you get into a street fight then you’re kind of an idiot. If you want to go around picking fights then that is fine, but let me know where you’ll be so I can be on the other side of town with all the other people that left their junior high mentality back in junior high.

Since “street fighting” is actually avoidable the average person just has to concern themselves with acts of criminal violence so let’s look at that and how physical conditioning relates to it.

Most acts of criminal violence happen in five stages: stalking, closing the distance, the initial assault, completing the crime, and quickly escaping. These five stages often happen quickly and with little warning.

First you have stalking where the criminal stalks their intended target, perhaps following them until they get to an area that offers concealment.

Second you have the criminal closing the distance with their target but doing so in a manner that won’t make them feel threatened. They want to approach their target without setting off any warning bells so they often walk up to them but act disinterested like they’re going to walk right by (and then attack by sucker punching them from the side or the rear), they may engage their target in quick innocent conversation like asking for the time, directions, or a cigarette and then close distance and attack once the person gets distracted by answering them, and of course sometimes they just run up and attack.

Third, you have the actual attack which we have already touched on above. The last thing the average criminal will want to do is get into a fight and risk getting hurt so they’ll try to close distance without spooking you and then take you by surprise so it is important to remember that a real criminal will not put their hands up, they don’t square off, they don’t let you get into a fighting position, and they don’t get into a kickboxing match with you.

Fourth, once they have their target in a reactive state, often bleeding on the ground, they complete their objective which is either to rob them, rape them, abduct them, or kill them.

Fifth, with the task being done they quickly leave to avoid being caught. Thin entire process can easily last less than 10 seconds and normally does.

So where does conditioning come in? It is important to be in shape in your everyday life and being in better shape may deter a criminal but in most cases it really isn’t that important in order to survive a typical act of criminal violence. If you want to put your hands up and get into a fight with someone in a ring then being physically strong and in good aerobic and anaerobic shape would be a necessity because you would be competing in an athletic endeavor. If you’re engaging in mutual combat outside of a ring then it comes down to causing injury which can happen very quickly and the situation is not necessarily athletic anymore. In this situation the outcome comes down to pure violent intent, luck, and experience more than any form of anaerobic or aerobic conditioning.

Here is an example of an actual instance of criminal violence: you’re walking down the sidewalk with the street on your right side when suddenly you see a car pull up next to you. A man leans out the window and says, “Hey, do you know where the nearest gas station is?”

You stop for a second to think and you notice the guy opening his door and stepping out of the car. You stop and point up the street and you barely notice that he has taken a few steps towards you. He turns in the direction that you’re pointing and asks a question and you instinctively look and point in that direction when suddenly he takes another step forwards and sucker punches you in the face. You stumble back and bring your arms up to protect your face but he grabs you and throws another four or five quick punches into your head and you drop to your knees. He pushes you over and goes through your pockets taking your wallet before he jumps back in his car and drives away.

In this example that repeats itself over and over thousands of times a day conditioning isn’t really a factor for either one of you. Now if you turn and started to run as soon as he got out of the car then you would have the issue or aerobic conditioning, granted in this particular situation it is very unlikely he would have chased you.

Let’s play that situation out differently, this time instead of sucker punching you and then overwhelming you, when he distracts you this time he instead steps forward and grabs you by the shirt with his left hand and puts a knife to your throat with his right hand, pulling you forward and growling, “Give me your @&*$# wallet!”

Thinking you might be killed you place your left hand on his right elbow and rotate your body slightly clockwise as you push his elbow into his body and pin it against his chest to remove the knife from your throat. You then step into him with your left foot and drive your right fist into his throat following all the way through, knocking him backwards about 4 feet. As you get ready to follow up with a kick to the groin he drops to his knees and lies down on his back making a strange gurgling sound as he grabs his throat and tries to breathe. Since it is clear he is no longer a threat you turn to run to someplace safe so you can call the police.

That is a realistic situation that also plays itself out, in one way or another, all over the country and how much conditioning did it require? The simple truth is that while instances of mutual combat can last several minutes or longer, acts of actual criminal violence are usually over in 10 seconds or less. Criminals are predators and don’t want a fight.

If a lion stalks a gazelle and it detects her (females do most of the hunting) and runs away she won’t chase it because she knows she won’t catch it. However, if after she successfully stalks it and closes the distance she springs out and charges it and it turns and runs, there is a very short window when she will keep chasing it. The second she feels that she can’t catch it she stops running and starts looking for another prey. Criminals are the same way; they don’t want to fight with someone and most will only expand a little bit of energy before giving up and going after someone else.

Most of the guys I knew when I was younger that got in fights and won weren’t well conditioned at all, they were just big and aggressive. They hit first and they hit often and when they weren’t hitting someone whey were sitting on the couch watching TV.

Conditioning is great and I highly recommend it; it will only make you more effective and give you more options in a violent situation. However, as the level of violence goes up the length of the encounter typically goes down and so does and so does a person’s need to be aerobically fit.

The question then becomes what kind of conditioning is most effective. Mental training is very important and the best way to do that is to visualize yourself successfully defending yourself in a life or death situation. Your body parts should also be conditioned to sustain impact without being injured, and the best tool for that is makiwara. Over time your bones will sustain small fractures and repair itself causing the bones involved in striking to get thicker and harder, able to sustain more and more impact and letting you hit harder and harder.

When the topic of conditioning comes up most people think of cardiovascular conditioning and that is also important. The problem with most people who train to “fight” is that they focus on aerobic conditioning. You see boxers, wrestlers, and wrestleboxers out there jogging and jumping rope getting themselves in great shape but then they become winded after just two or three rounds. Why is that? Aerobic conditioning trains your body for sustained repetitive motion but fighting is not repetitive. Fighting contains random and chaotic movements; you may throw 4 punches followed by 2 kicks, followed by hopping around for a few minutes, and then a minute or two of grappling. Nothing in a typical fight is about sustained repetitive motions, rather it takes place in small but very aggressive bursts.

To prepare your cardiovascular system for the random movements of a fight you should do aerobic workouts but you should focus most of your training on anaerobic conditioning. To a large degree, mastering offense is about mastering your ability to do the most “work” in small extremely aggressive bursts over and over. How do you train this? Simply start with a heavy bag and go all out striking the bag non-stop for 20 seconds. Focus on aggressiveness and overall intensity. Take 20 seconds to rest and do it again. Build up until you can go all out for 2 full minutes taking only about 30 seconds break in between. Take it into the ring and go all out with your partner for a full 2 minutes non-stop and do the same thing. If you can do this, you will have little problem overwhelming your opponent.